‘Kung Fu Panda’ is a treat for kids and snoozers alike

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

There is one deep, dark secret that no film critic will ever reveal. Even mentioning that it exists could get me thrown out of the Movie Snob’s Union. But due to my honesty, loyalty, and belief in the American Way, I’m gonna spill the beans: I slept through part of “Kung Fu Panda.”

Actually, I just slept through The Big Fight scene at the end, where our unlikely hero, a roly-poly panda, played with plenty of plump panache by Jack Black, takes on an evil snow leopard, voiced by the great Ian McShane.

Good guys never lose, especially in animated films, so I didn’t miss any plot points, just a bunch of jumping around and thrashing and Kung Fu-ish type grunts and groans – and there were plenty of those earlier in the film. I just got tired of all the flailing about, and took a little snooze. And right after all the yelling stopped, I woke up. So sue me.

Otherwise, the film was enjoyable as all get-out. DreamWorks seems to excel in voice casting (“Shrek,” anybody?), and this panda flick was no exception. Jack Black, so miscast in “King Kong,” has finally found his niche. He’s just great playing Po, the humble waiter in his pop’s noodle restaurant, who longs to be a great Kung Fu warrior.

It’s the stuff that movies are made of, friends, and while the story is predictable enough, the enjoyment’s in the journey, as they say. It’s a typical tale of an underdog becoming Our Hero and saving the day. The kids’ll love it, and grownups will appreciate the animation, the beautiful Chinese settings, the characterizations, and perhaps playing the old Name That Star game for all the celebrity voices.

There are plenty of them, by the way. Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Seth Rogen and Lucy Liu are excellent, with Randall Duk Kim (as a wise old tortoise) and James Hong (as Po’s dad) standing out even brighter.

I believe what makes this film, along with “Shrek,” so fascinating is the depth of character in the hero. You can tell that a lot of work and a lot of thought went into the creation of the individual. Po, in his twentysomething, slacker mode, enamored of martial arts yet stuck in the boring family business, is probably a character that a lot of young people can relate to, and one that youngsters can recognize and immediately understand. Believe me, the folks at DreamWorks ain’t no idiots. If you’re not charmed by this plump panda, there’s something wrong somewhere.

Finding reasonable summer entertainment for your tots is a sticky business, especially if you want to steer them away from violence. There’s a lot of bopping and bumping in “Kung Fu Panda,” of course, but it’s somehow softer when it’s animated. At least blood’s not gushing in the streets. So take the kids, and you’ll enjoy it too. And you won’t miss a heck of a lot if you decide to take a little snooze when the lengthy and climactic action scene rolls around.

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.


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